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US Submarine Visits Former Philippines Base Amid South China Sea Tensions

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US Submarine Visits Former Philippines Base Amid South China Sea Tensions

Washington touts “stabilizing force” of its presence as Manila and Beijing trade barbs.

US Submarine Visits Former Philippines Base Amid South China Sea Tensions

The USS Ohio in Sepanggar, Malaysia in November 2015.

Credit: U.S. Navy Photo

A U.S. submarine arrived at a former base in the Philippines this week amid ongoing South China Sea tensions between Manila and Beijing.

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio arrived at Subic Bay on Tuesday for a scheduled port visit as part of a broader regional deployment.

The USS Ohio is the second U.S. submarine to dock at Subic and the sixth U.S. warship to visit the Philippines this month, according to a statement by the U.S. embassy in Manila. The United States and the Philippines also announced the first five facilities under their new defense pact this month (See: “A Big Deal? US, Philippines Agree First ‘Bases’ Under New Defense Pact“).

The visit comes a week after a Chinese coast vessel rammed the boat of Philippine fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, a feature that Beijing seized control of following a three-month standoff with Manila back in 2012. The Philippines said the fishermen had bottles thrown at them, while China claimed that Philippine fishermen retaliated with fire bombs.

U.S. navy chief Admiral John Richardson also said last week that Washington had picked up activity around Scarborough Shoal that could be a precursor to Chinese land reclamation there. A verdict on a South China Sea case that Manila filed against Beijing with the Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected in May or June (See: “Does the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Really Matter?“).

Captain Michael Lewis, the commanding officer of the USS Ohio, described the visit of the submarine and its crew of 165 as part of a broader effort by the United States to provide a “stabilizing force” through its presence.

“Our presence in the region provides a stabilizing force and through engagements with our partners, such as this port visit to Subic Bay, we aid in maintaining that stability,” he said.

The USS Ohio is one of the largest submarines in the world, measuring more than 560 feet long and weighing more than 16,000 tons when submerged. The submarine is capable of supporting a multitude of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, naval special warfare involving special operations forces, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and irregular warfare.